Priti Patel sorry: Home Secretary apologises after bullying report

Ethics adviser quits after Boris Johnson rejects independent findings

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 22, 2020 Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel arrives at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in central London on September 22, 2020 to attend the weekly meeting of the cabinet.  A Cabinet Office inquiry into allegations of bullying by Priti Patel has found evidence that she broke the ministerial code, informed sources said on November 20, 2020. / AFP / POOL / Leon Neal

A UK civil servant who found that Home Secretary Priti Patel bullied her staff has quit after Boris Johnson rejected his independent findings.

Sir Alex Allan, Mr Johnson’s top adviser on government ethics, found that Ms Patel's behaviour breached the ministerial code of conduct and in some instances amounted to bullying.

But the Prime Minister stood by his Home Secretary and rejected Sir Alex’s findings.

He said he had carefully considered his conclusions but ultimately judged that the code had not been breached.

A spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has full confidence in the Home Secretary and considers this matter now closed.

"He is also reassured that relationships, practices and culture in the Home Office are much improved.

"As the arbiter of the code, having considered Sir Alex’s advice and weighing up all the factors, the Prime Minister’s judgment is that the ministerial code was not breached.

“The Prime Minister notes Sir Alex’s advice that many of the concerns now raised were not raised at the time and that the Home Secretary was unaware of the impact that she had.”

Sir Alex found that Ms Patel, who has led the Home Office since 2019, had “not consistently met the high standards” required by the ministerial code of “treating her civil servants with consideration and respect”, and that he viewed some behaviour as bullying.

He said: “To that extent, her behaviour has been in breach of the ministerial code, even if unintentionally.”

Sir Alex announced his resignation at the same time as Mr Johnson publicly disagreed with his findings.

He said: "I recognise that it is for the Prime Minister to make a judgment on whether actions by a minister amount to a breach of the ministerial code.

"But I feel that it is right that I should now resign from my position as the Prime Minister's independent adviser on the code."

'I am direct and get frustrated'

Ms Patel apologised and acknowledged: “I am direct and have at times got frustrated.

“I am sorry that my behaviour in the past has upset people,” she said. “It has never been my intention to cause upset to anyone.”

Sir Alex added that the Home Secretary had "legitimately not always felt supported by the department".

Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel visits the North Yorkshire Police headquarters in Northallerton, northeast England on July 30, 2020. / AFP / POOL / Charlotte Graham

He said: "In addition, no feedback was given to the Home Secretary of the impact of her behaviour, which meant she was unaware of issues that she could otherwise have addressed."

Ministers usually resign or are sacked if they break the ministerial code.

Ms Patel, who has previously served as International Development Secretary, resigned from that role in 2017 after holding unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials.

She was brought back into the Cabinet when Mr Johnson became Prime Minister in July 2019.

Her tenure as Home Secretary had been under a cloud since her powerful department's top civil servant quit in February.

Philip Rutnam announced he was suing the government for constructive dismissal after reporting allegations by staff "that her conduct has included shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands".

Mr Johnson launched an internal inquiry into the claims but reportedly sat on the findings for at least two months, prompting claims by opposition parties of a cover-up.

But his hand was forced when outlines of Sir Alex's report were leaked to The Times.

One official serving under Ms Patel when she was an employment minister in 2015 took an overdose of prescription drugs after Ms Patel had harangued her, the BBC reported in March.

Ms Patel, like Mr Johnson's former chief aide Dominic Cummings, who quit last week, was prominent in the 2016 Vote Leave campaign to take Britain out of the European Union, and is in charge of counter-terrorism, immigration, crime and policing.

She is a key right-wing ally and, with her family roots in western India, is representative of Mr Johnson's desire to have a diverse team of ministers.

She stood down as International Development Secretary in November 2017 after holding 12 secret meetings while on a family holiday in Israel, including with the country's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.